With U.S. President Barack Obama holding a narrow lead in the polls over Republican challenger Mitt Romney, investors need to be prepared for a win by either candidate.
Strangely enough, history has shown that the stock market actually does much better under Democratic presidents than Republican ones - three times better since 1913, according to The New York Times, and more than five times better since 1960.
Of course, that doesn't mean there won't still be plenty of stock market opportunities if Romney wins the election. It just means investors must be a bit more selective, targeting leading stocks in industries that have a history of prospering under GOP policies, especially those directly affected by planks in the Republican platform.
Sectors that fall into this category include certain health insurers, medical device makers, energy companies, domestic oil exploration outfits, utilities, transportation firms (especially railroads), and defense contractors.
Let's take a look.
Health Care Stocks If Romney Wins Election
The fortunes of the health insurers and medical manufacturers are, of course, linked to the fate of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) -popularly known as "Obamacare."
Romney and the GOP are committed to repealing the universal healthcare program, which mandates insurance coverage for every citizen and imposes numerous taxes and reductions in doctor and insurance reimbursements to pay for it.
As the Obamacare law is currently written, it would cut deeply into the revenue of companies providing commercial health insurance plans, especially those covering managed-care programs and offering supplemental insurance to seniors on Medicare - so called Medicare Advantage plans.
Analysts for Citigroup Inc. (C) recently projected these companies could see an annual drop of up to 15% in revenue and earnings if Obamacare survives, but would likely see earnings rise by 10% or more if it is repealed.
Given that, two healthcare companies to look at if Romney wins election are:
- UnitedHealth Group (UNH), recent price $55.61 - A leading provider of both employer-sponsored and private health-insurance plans, UNH has seen a steady rise in earnings over the past four years, reporting $4.73 a share for fiscal 2011. However, both revenue and earnings dipped slightly in the second quarter in anticipation of Obamacare reductions, and the stock price pulled back from its mid-year high of $60.75 in response. The company did raise its quarterly dividend to 21 cents a share, representing a projected annual yield of 1.5%.
- Humana Inc. (HUM), recent price $70.26 - Humana is one of the country's largest health insurers, with 11.2 million members in its general health programs and another 7.3 million covered under specialty plans. However, it stands to see major reductions due to Obama health programs and defense cuts since it gets 76% of current revenue from the government, including 16% for Medicare Advantage plans and 10% for military services. Earnings estimates have been reduced to $7.53 per share from last year's $8.46, and the stock has fallen 26% from its January high of $96.46. The dividend of $1.04 provides an annual yield of 1.47%.
For medical equipment makers, the biggest Obamacare blow is a new 2.3% excise tax on U.S. sales, scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1, 2013. If Romney wins the election, he'd likely cancel the tax, which would benefit companies such as:
- St. Jude Medical Inc. (STJ), recent price $42.20 - A manufacturer of pacemakers, defibrillators and other cardiac-care devices, St. Jude may be better prepared to handle the new tax than some of its competitors, two of which recently estimated it could cost them up to $200 million a year. St. Jude just announced a restructuring plan that could counter such costs by cutting up to 300 jobs. That sparked a modest rally in the stock, but it's still off its 52-week highs despite a slight increase in second quarter earnings.
Defense and Utilities Stocks Rooting for Romney
Romney has pledged not to make any cuts in defense spending, a likely target of the Democrats should President Obama be re-elected. Many defense contractors might see sharp cuts or even elimination of some major weapons programs should President Obama prevail. If Romney wins the election, one defense contractor to benefit would be:
- Textron Inc. (TXT), recent price $26.09 - Through its Bell Helicopter Division, TXT makes and maintains a variety of military helicopters, including the controversial V-22 Tiltrotor "Osprey" aircraft, which many Democrats would like to kill. If Romney wins election, he'd probably save that program. That would help Textron by improving its business prospects, possibly prompting more orders for its commercial helicopters and Cessna private aircraft. The company reported earnings of 59 cents a share in the second quarter, up from 41 cents in the prior period, but the stock is still down from its 52-week high of $29.18.
Another feature of Obamacare is a 3.8% "Medicare contribution tax" on higher-income individuals. That tax - coupled with elimination of the "qualified" dividend status should the Bush tax cuts be allowed to expire at year's end - would cause the tax rate on most stock dividends to skyrocket from 15% to as much as 43.4%.
High-dividend utility companies would, needless to say, get hammered as income investors flee for other more lucrative vehicles. But Romney has not only pledged to restore the "qualified" dividend designation, he says he'd exempt dividends from income taxes entirely. That would give a big boost to gas, electric and telecom companies, such as:
- Windstream Corp. (WIN), recent price $10.20 - WIN supplies phone, wireless, broadband, video and cloud-computing services to customers in 48 states, and its $1.00 annual dividend provides one of the highest yields in the industry - 9.86%. Earnings have slipped the past two years, but that has been the result of expenses for several acquisitions rather than operations, and the stock has traded in a very narrow range as a result. However, if taxes on dividends are eliminated, an influx of buyers seeking that big yield could send the share price sharply higher.
Finally, an election win by Romney and the Republicans would almost certainly ease environmental regulations on energy companies that use coal-fired power plants. That would help both the utilities and the transportation companies that handle the coal, particularly the railroads. The best bet among the rails could be:
- CSX Corp. (CSX), recent price: $20.88 - With more than 21,000 miles of track in 23 Eastern states and Canada, and service to more than 70 ocean, lake and river ports, CSX gets roughly 25% of its revenue from coal shipments. Under President Obama, both revenue ($11.74 billion in 2011) and earnings ($1.67 a share) have been relatively flat, but renewed support for coal under Romney could turn the earnings curve - and the stock price - higher. The dividend of 45 cents a share provides an annual yield of 2.1%.
A note of caution if Romney wins election: One reason stocks have thrived under President Obama - the S&P 500 is up about 73.2% since his inauguration in January 2009 - has been the easy-money policies of the Federal Reserve under Chairman Ben Bernanke.
However, Romney says if he's elected, he won't reappoint Bernanke when his current term expires in 2014. Uncertainty over both a possible successor and a potential increase in interest rates could well keep a cap on near-term stock market advances.